The University of Massachusetts has long been a doormat Hockey East program. The Minutemen have not finished an even .500 since 2009-2010 and have only made one trip to the NCAA Tournament, in 2007. Last season was particularly hard for UMass, as the team lost 17 consecutive games to close out the season, including four consecutive losses to the Providence College Friars across the regular season’s end and the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs.
So when the eighth-ranked Friars made the trip to the Mullins Center for a Thursday night meeting with the Minutemen, the expectation was for the Friars to barrel through Amherst. Instead, the Friars got a battle.
UMass got the early jump on the Friars on a funky bounce. 3:21 into the first, Mitchell Chaffe got possession of the puck behind the net and threw it towards Providence goaltender Hayden Hawkey. The puck caught Hawkey in the back of his head, went straight up, and fluttered over the goal line for a 1-0 Minutemen lead.
UMass kept up the pressure, scoring another goal before the eight-minute mark on an Oliver Chau wraparound. Friars Head Coach Nate Leaman burned his timeout to rally his team and right the ship. The timeout did so. Providence outshot the Minutemen 14-12 and got a goal back. Mitchell Chaffee was called for a tripping penalty with four minutes left in the first. Ben Mirageas paid it off with a strong top of the circle wrister that beat Ryan Wischow in net. UMass took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Providence burst out to start the second period. They outskated the Minutemen and evened the game near the 7-minute mark. Scott Connway won a board battle, spun off a defender, and fed the puck in-front for Josh Wilkins, who put it home.
The teams recorded no more goals in the second but were called for five penalties in the period. Play slowed down with more hits and more methodical passing. UMass outshot Providence 10-7 for each team’s lowest period total of the game. Ryan Wischow and Hayden Hawkey wrote the stories of the back end of the second period. PC and UMass were tied 2-2 after two periods.
The third period belonged to the Minutemen. UMass outshot Providence 16-10 and outworked the Friars completely. The go-ahead goal epitomized the game. George Mika won a faceoff in Providence ice, got the puck to Austin Albrecht, and the freshman scored to give UMass the lead only 1:43 into the period. A combination of penalties and sloppy passing kept Providence from equalizing the game. When they killed the final penalty, the Friars pulled Hayden Hawkey to get an extra attacker. Instead, UMass got two empty net goals to close out the night, 5-2 for UMass. Niko Rufo and Niko Hildenbrand got the empty netters. Rufo’s goal was particularly satisfying, as he transferred from Providence to UMass following low playing time for the Friars.
Nate Leaman was not happy with his team. “We wanted an easy game tonight against them and they outworked us. That’s not the same UMass team we beat four straight last year. That’s a good team.” UMass coach Greg Carvel was happy with the effort. “That was a big win for our program. And we didn’t steal that. It was a good hockey game that we won. It wasn’t a 3 goal game, it was a one-goal game with some empty netters against a good team.”
Wischow and Hawkey had 33 saves each. Wischow also had an assist on Rufo’s empty-netter. Providence falls to 5-4-0 overall and 2-3-0 in Hockey East. UMass is an even .500, 5-5-0 overall and 2-2-0 in Hockey East. The teams rematch on Saturday at Schneider Arena in Providence. Puck drops at 7 pm.